Saturday, June 28, 2014

Instant Action: No Holds Barred (1989)

I'll take some more of Stan Hansen, thank you very much!

Written By: Dennis Hacken
Directed By: Thomas J. Wright

No Holds Barred is a very ridiculous film, there’s no two ways around that. I’m not going to focus too much on that though, because I think the ridiculousness of No Holds Barred is obvious and appealing. The dookie scene in particular is on a whole different level from the rest of cinema. The paper thin characters, the cheesy 1980s music, Hulk Hogan’s acting, and the action scenes that revolve around muscle bound guys who can barely move, these are but a few of the ridiculous factors that make No Holds Barred pretty darn great.

I take the above as a given when it comes to No Holds Barred, but for a hardcore wrestling fan there’s a lot more than meets the eye with this film. Vince McMahon has his hands all over the production of No Holds Barred, and in the most interesting ways. Brell is the clear villain of the film, but he’s doing the same things that Mr. McMahon did to destroy the promotional wrestling system. The style of wrestling being promoted by Brell is that of brawling with very little technique, a style that came to dominate the way Mr. McMahon wanted his wrestling to look. The man bankrolling No Holds Barred is the real life version of Brell, and that’s pretty darn fascinating to watch go down.

There are other interesting tidbits in No Holds Barred. Take the character of Bubba, as played by Stan Hansen. In my mind this was a clear screw you from Mr. McMahon to fans of more realistic pro wrestling. He knew how hardcore wrestling fans loved Mr. Hansen and would seek out The Lariat’s work in Japan all the time. It makes perfect sense then that he’s portrayed as an out of shape and lumbering oaf in No Holds Barred. Someone like Mr. Hansen doesn’t fit the muscle bound look that Mr. McMahon favors in his pro wrestlers.

The action scenes in No Holds Barred are also kind of fascinating. Said action is big muscle bound gorillas who are barely able to move clunking around throwing badly telegraphed punches and kicks. For Mr. McMahon this was the stuff of pro wrestling action, no one wanted to see actual athletes, but rather they wanted to see oiled up muscles and bad tans. It’s amazing to watch the action in No Holds Barred unfold because it’s quite terrible, and yet everyone involved with the film clearly thinks they are producing top flight action set pieces.

The climactic showdown is also delightful to break down. On the one hand the film wants the viewer to believe that Zeus is a killing machine who is laying waste to the hero, Rip Thomas.  On the other hand the film wants the viewer to buy into the fact that Rip is holding back for ulterior reasons. Those two things can’t both be happening, at least not in terms of creating drama and tension in the finale. Yet, Thomas J. Wright’s film plays the finale as if both of those are really happening and it’s almost mind boggling in its execution.

As a pure action film, No Holds Barred is tripe. There’s almost nothing to recommend and I can see why so many cinephiles easily dismiss No Holds Barred as a waste of time. However, there’s a lot to digest in terms of the prescient nature of the film towards the pro wrestling landscape. Is it possible for a film to be incredibly dumb and really smart at the same time? In the case of No Holds Barred it certainly is and that’s why this film is an alluring watch.



Bill Thompson

Friday, June 27, 2014

Episode #293: Bad Education at Black Rock

Welcome back to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents cover Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) directed by John Sturges and Bad Education (2004) directed by Pedro Almodovar!!! 

Direct download: ggtmc_293.mp3

Emails to


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mixed Blood (1984)

In Paul Morrissey’s film Mixed Blood there is a scene set inside a store called Menuditis.    Apparently, it’s a store devoted entirely to merchandise for the boy group Menudo.  Now, when that name is mentioned, I would imagine most peoples’ reaction is either to squeal with spiteful glee or to roll their eyes in consternation.  In all fairness, Menudo’s brand of bland, sanitized pop is neither any more nor any less offensive than that of any other purveyors of same, then or now.  Hell, for a while there I was a Michael Jackson fan (I was glued to the Thriller short/music video whenever it would come on).  What strikes me as funny is that there is a store dealing only in Menudo goods.  I have seen stores revolving around a specific line of items like Buildabear or Old Navy, but I cannot recall one other shop catering solely to one personality/property/band quite like this.  I have never seen a Christopher Walken boutique or a Black Sabbath outlet (to be sure, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to discover they exist either).  While these things are just as identifiable to the public (I would argue they are even more so), this level of property branding of Menudo stands out because of how uncommon it is.  Maybe in their native Puerto Rico this is something you see all over the place.  Having never visited there, I honestly couldn’t say.  But in America it’s odd (or at least it’s odd to me; I don’t know, maybe I’m the odd one).  Yet, it does make for an interesting location for a scene; you’ll get no argument from me on that.

On the mean streets of New York’s Alphabet City (a section on Manhattan’s Lower East Side), a gang of Brazilians called Los Maceteros lead by godmother Rita La Punta (Marilia Pera) squares off against the bloodthirsty Master Dancers, a Puerto Rican (I think they’re Puerto Rican; I don’t remember them actually mentioning anything in the film) gang lead by Juan the Bullet (Angel David), for control of the territory and its lucrative drug trade.  Watching this all play out are Hank (Ulrich Berr), often referred to as the German, and his fellow drug lords.  The German’s friend Carol (Linda Kerridge) takes an interest in Rita’s son Thiago (Richard Ulacia), and things get complicated.

When most folks hear the name Paul Morrissey, I would bet dollars to donuts the first films they think of are the ones to which Andy Warhol’s name was attached (Flesh For Frankenstein, Blood For Dracula, Trash, et cetera).  I cannot earnestly say that I like or dislike this one any more than those, but Mixed Blood is most assuredly a mixed bag.  The story is fairly standard in its basics, but it has enough sleazy, oddball moments and gory, violent outbursts to maintain interest and keep a sufficiently smooth sense of pacing.  The acting is amateurish almost across the board, but I would suggest this is actually one of its assets.  There is a feeling of authenticity that comes from the ham-handed way these people deliver lines, acting with their heads only.  But it’s not their thespian skills that deliver the verisimilitude; it’s their appearances.  You completely believe that Ulacia or Rodney Harvey grew up around the Alphabet (or if not there, somewhere equally as destitute during this era of New York’s history).  While we’re on the subject, I would highly recommend watching this film with subtitles handy.  There are a slew of accents going on at any given moment, and even at their clearest, it still took me a moment or two to decipher almost every line of dialogue spoken in the movie (and there are some I just gave up on completely).  None of this is aided by the fact that non-actors like the aforementioned Ulacia deliver their lines in either mumbles or screams.  But again, I feel this adds to the film’s flavor in a bizarre way; so for me, it’s part of the charm.

The New York City of the Seventies and Eighties is an amazing thing to me.  If you didn’t know any better, you would honestly think that sections had been leveled during the Blitz.  Yet people lived there, and even though I don’t think I, personally, would have liked to, there are those who actually liked living there.  Then again, there are also people who had no choice, but they bore up under this yoke of desolation and persevered in spite of it.  Rita understands this.  She keeps her gang with her, all living in one apartment, sleeping together like they are in an army barracks.  She maintains rules for them; primary among them is no one under her can use drugs.  She makes sure they bathe on a semi-regular basis.  By that same token, she has no compunction about selling drugs to the junkies in the community.  She doesn’t blink at the thought of prostitution as a means of making money (and the selling of infants is even discussed at one point, though not by Rita).  She does what needs doing to survive and protect her family, but she is especially protective (in fact, over-protective) of Thiago.  She doesn’t allow him to leave Alphabet City.  He obeys every word she says.  He and Rita even sleep in the same bed.  The idea is floated that Thiago may be somewhat dimwitted, and I have to say that Ulacia’s performance does little to dispel this notion.  Either way, his relationship with his mother is unhealthy.  What is interesting is that Rita can’t fully protect Thiago in or out of the Alphabet, and Carol, instead of being a freeing force for Thiago, turns out to be just as poisonous.  The two women in Thiago’s life vie for his affections regardless of what Thiago thinks (not that we’re given any indication that he does much of that at all), so naturally none of this can turn out well, right?
The title Mixed Blood refers principally to the idea of Carol insinuating herself into Thiago’s life, tainting Thiago’s Brazilian blood (and by extension Los Maceteros) with her Caucasian blood.  But it also refers to the idea of America as a melting pot.  Everyone in the film dislikes people from outside their own race.  Epithets are thrown around freely (and I can only think of a few I didn’t hear in the movie), and no one ever bats an eye when they are (even characters belonging to the disparaged ethnicity).  The melting pot here is actually a cesspool, divided by race rather than merging them together.  And everyone will do whatever it takes to be king (or queen) of the literal heap.  For all of its faults, though, Morrissey and company do a commendable job compelling you to watch this struggle to the top.  But was it all worth it?
MVT:  I love the setting of the film.  I’m one of those people who simply can’t get enough of pre-gentrification New York City on film.  The mere sight can conjure textures of glass and rusting metal grating under your feet and grimy air filling your lungs.  Maybe it’s just me.  But I doubt it.
Make Or Break:  The Make is the scene where cigarette butts are repeatedly put out on a character’s torso.  If this scene was done via special effects, it is impressive.  If it wasn’t, it is creepy.  Either way, it made me cringe.
Score:  6.5/10   

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Episode #292: Blind Woman in Milan

Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week our show is brought to us by and it was Will's turn to program the show!!! Will chose Blind Woman's Curse (1970) directed by Teruo Ishii and Gang War in Milan (1973) directed by Umberto Lenzi.

Direct download: ggtmc_292.mp3 
Emails to


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blue Sunshine (1978)

**There are going to be SPOILERS ahead**

One night at an intimate party, pro-am crooner (actually, he’s a photographer) Frannie (Richard Crystal) is revealed as being almost totally bald (with some scraggly clumps left for creepiness).  Suddenly fueled by bug-eyed rage (and looking like a cross between Kevin McDonald of The Kids In The Hall and Peter Bark of Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror, both of whom, frankly, if you told me they were the same person, I would believe you), he winds up killing three women by fireplace immolation before being thrown in front of a truck by our improbable protagonist Jerry (future softcore bigwig Zalman King).  Suddenly finding himself on the run, Jerry and his honeybunch Alicia (Deborah Winters) try to get to the bottom of what’s going on while leisurely avoiding quasi-intrepid copper Lt. Clay (Charles Siebert).

The first and most prominent theme at work in Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine is one of pasts, of skeletons in closets.  We all have stupid things we did when we were young.  For some they were just goofy, kid-type things.  For others they were strikingly disturbing and even downright heinous.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is these are things we would rather forget about and have (usually) moved past.  When they arise again, they are both embarrassing and potentially threatening.  After all, we are not the same people we were then, and for as much as we grow and change over time, much of our world is shaped by what people think of us in the here and now.  For them to discover the unexpected of us is an obstacle, possibly an insurmountable one.  So we have Jerry’s pal Dr. Blume (Robert Walden) who dealt drugs to pay for college (this is referenced later on as well, when a junkie mistakes him for a pusher, even though he is, in fact, there to pass something off to Jerry…drugs).  We have politician Ed Flemming (Mark Goddard) who was also a big drug source in college.  Frannie dropped acid in the past, though that’s really his only transgression as far as we’re told.  Ed’s estranged wife Wendy (Ann Cooper) did the same, though for her to admit as much would ruin Ed’s future (this was the Seventies, not the Nineties).  Plus, the fact that their marriage is broken adds to this sense of shame.  We’ve all heard about people having acid flashbacks, sometimes years after taking the drug.  The brilliance of this story is that these flashbacks take concrete form in the present.  This sin of the past manifests itself in horrific terms.

In that respect, we have the idea of movement within social strata for the characters.  They were in college around 1968, the height of the hippie era.  They were free thinkers.  They were radicals.  They experimented in all manner of ways, searching for some truth of themselves and some path to a better world (I’m sure there were those more selfish, to boot).  We see a couple of pictures of Ed that Frannie took back in the day.  One has him shirtless before a field of swimming colors, the poster boy for turning on, tuning in, and dropping out (which he naturally did not do himself).  The other has him dressed as Uncle Sam giving the middle finger.  Clearly, they were the counterculture, the outsiders who wanted to shake things up, to rebel.  In the present (and only a scant ten years later on), you have Blume, who is a successful and skilled surgeon.  You have Frannie, who is apparently still a photographer but has traded his tie dye for a tweed blazer, his ripple for chardonnay.  Of course, the one who has apparently changed the most is Ed.  He has gone from flipping the bird to the Man to being the Man.  He has become the establishment he used to defy.  Intriguingly, it brings up the question of whether they were ever earnest in their earlier beliefs, or was it just something to do at the time, a phase, and how much did they actually struggle with their decisions to change?  Or was it more insidious?  Did these changes occur in small increments, like the proverbial longest journey, with the end being reached after putting one foot in front of the other only to understand the full extent of the distance covered by looking back at the road traveled?  

Further than this, it brings up the concept of the monster within.  These characters are all seemingly nice people in their day-to-day lives.  They smile, they are kind to people, they have friends.  When they go bald, they are filled with uncontrollable fury, their minds (and therefore their bodies) are no longer their own.  But everyone has a dark aspect to them, and here they are turned up to eleven and unleashed.  This loss of restraint symbolizes a loss of self.  This is reinforced by the physical characteristics of these flights of fury.  The victims get intense headaches.  They are blocked from thinking their own thoughts anymore.  They have a hyper-sensitivity to sound.  They are blocked from hearing the thoughts of others.  They are isolated and removed from the world, exterior and interior.  The baldness constitutes uniformity and conformity.  They all look the same.  No blonds, no brunettes, no redheads.  Just bug-eyed baldies hellbent on destruction.

You may have noticed that I have not talked much about King or his character Jerry.  There are reasons for this.  Number one, the man is not a good actor.  His skills veer toward the overwrought end of the thespian spectrum.  Further he manages to bring a level of blandness to his character that can almost be felt physically.  With that in mind, the script doesn’t really pay him much attention anyway, except in his role as an expositional machine.  He strolls up to people (including the poorly used [though that’s not saying much here] Alice Ghostley, whom I like to think of as the female Paul Lynde), gives them no information about himself, and asks wildly intrusive questions.  And these people answer them, as if this is perfectly normal.  When he does engage in any sort of action, it is strictly because the film has been sagging in the pacing department (probably fat from all the nigh-endless talking).  This is the only reason we even have the character of Lt. Clay, and even he feels like he is simply thrown in to remind us that Jerry is on the lam.  Speaking of which, for a man supposedly wanted for murder, Jerry makes absolutely no bones about showing his rather distinctive face in public all over the place.  And no one ever recognizes him.  Add to that the fact that this entire story could likely have been cleared up (or at least put on the fast track to resolution) by the eyewitnesses who saw Frannie snap a band, essentially constituting an Idiot Plot.  But then we wouldn’t have the mystery of Blue Sunshine to delve into, which is neither played up for its deeper implications nor resolved in a satisfactory manner (it wasn’t for me, at any rate).  It aims strictly for the middle in everything (except King’s acting). This is the second time I have watched this film.  The first go round, I thought it was pretty good.  I have to say, however, that on second watch it really doesn’t hold up, even under light scrutiny.  If I were to recommend a Lieberman film to someone, I have to say it would be Squirm, not this.

MVT:  The premise is compelling, and there are tons of ways it could have been explored, layers that could easily have been added through allusion alone.  None of this comes to pass, unfortunately.  I think this film is one of those ripe for a remake by someone who can take the core conceit and expand it logically (think: John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly).

Make Or Break:  The Break is the scene where Jerry interrogates Wendy.  The unlikelihood of Jerry being let into her pad at all is tough to take.  What makes it worse are the ways the filmmakers utilize to drag out the inevitable conflict in an effort to build tension.  It just doesn’t work, and none of this is helped by the fact that we’ve seen very similar scenes in the movie a few times already.

Score:  5.5/10